Tropical Marine Research TCMS homepage

Staff involved:

Alasdair Edwards, Tony Gill (Natural History Museum), Parcy Abohweyere (Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research)


Fishing in the centre of Lagos

Systematics and biogeography of West African shore fishes


The project involves the re-examination and identification of 280 samples of marine fish collected in Ghana by Dr F.R. Irvine during the late 1920s to late 1930s. These collections formed the basis of his seminal book The Fish and Fisheries of the Gold Coast published in 1947. The collection comprises about 180 species in almost 60 families. About 225 jars of Irvine's fishes were located among the 'spirit' collections at The Natural History Museum in London and all the specimens therein were measured and reidentified. Most specimens still had his numbered paper tags tied to them and so the BMNH registration numbers could for the first time be matched to Irvines's collection numbers (listed under each species in his book).

Some 23% of the species for which museum material was located, were found to have been misidentified and about 45% of those which had been correctly identified were listed under outdated names. Thus the whole of Irvine's text on the Marine Fishes has been revised in line with our current understanding of the taxonomy, biogeography and systematics of eastern Atlantic fishes.


Irvine's book was a seminal work for the West African region when it was published. However, it has dated considerable since 1947 and the specimens on which he based the marine part of the book have been largely ignored until now. This Darwin Initiative project has enabled the book to be brought up-to-date and substantially rewritten with the addition of FAO drawings and about 35 new keys to the species. A CD-ROM of colour photographs of important fisheries species has also been produced and this package of materials is being made available to local scientists in the region. The prime aim has been to return this work to those for whom it was intended in Africa.

Future directions

During studies of Irvine's collections it became apparent that The Natural History Museum possessed important collections of marine fishes from Nigeria as well as Ghana. We intend to widen the study to include these largely unstudied collections and combine the results in a major review of West African coastal fishes.


Edwards AJ, Gill AC, Abohweyere PO (2003) A revision of F.R. Irvine's Ghanaian marine fishes in the collections of The Natural History Museum, London. Journal of Natural History 37 (18): 2213-2267.

Edwards AJ, Gill AC, Abohweyere PO (2001) A Revision of Irvine's Marine Fishes of Tropical West Africa. 157 pp. Darwin Initiative Report 2, Ref. 162/7/451. (Available with CD-ROM of colour photographs, specimen database and text files).

Edwards AJ (1986) A new damselfish, Chromis lubbocki (Teleostei: Pomacentridae) from the Cape Verde Archipelago, with notes on other eastern Atlantic pomacentrids. Zoologische Mededelingen 60 (12): 181-207